Technology & democracy: the story of Brazil’s Social Technology Network

A new STEPS working paper tells the story of a recent experiment in grassroots innovation – the Social Technology Network (STN) in Brazil.

The paper, by Mariano Fressoli and Rafael Dias, is linked to our project on historical and comparative perspectives on grassroots innovation.

Formed in 2004, the STN was a ‘hybrid’, involving social movements, NGOs, national institutions and semi-public companies like Banco do Brazil’s Foundation and Petrobras. It was remarkable for its success in attracting a large number of projects – over 900.

The victory of Lula’s Workers’ Party in 2002 proved to be a fertile political environment for the STN to take shape, and it provided an opportunity to try new forms of social inclusion in science and technology development in Brazil.

As well as describing the STN’s formation, process, framing and links to public policy, the working paper looks at two examples of technologies supported by STN.

One is the agro-ecological method known as PAIS, which is designed to be suitable for small farms and favours using local materials and knowledge.

Cistern supported by One Million Cisterns programme
Building a cistern. (Image: Instituto Antônio Conselheiro)

The other is the One Million Cisterns programme, which since 2003 has supported the building of over 600,000 water cisterns in arid North-East Brazil, encouraging local people to build and modify the technology.

In its lifetime, the STN attempted to embed Social Technologies into policies and institutions in Brazil, with only partial success. In the end, the loose, informal structure of the STN felt the pressure of differing aims, expectations and forms of assessment, and the network was closed in 2012, though many of the projects have continued to be funded.

But through its efforts to empower social movements as active agents in the development of technologies and policies, the STN has opened a debate on how to democratise technological development. It may offer important lessons and inspiration for future initiatives in Brazil and elsewhere.

Download this paper

The Social Technology Network: A hybrid experiment in grassroots innovation (PDF)